Speaker Azhar says had hoped to be bridge between Perikatan and Pakatan, didn’t expect Dewan Rakyat ruckus over appointment

(MMO) – Datuk Azhar Azizan Harun said he had thought he could act as a bridge between the opposing political camps in Parliament, and did not expect the uproar in the Dewan Rakyat when he was appointed on July 13 as the new Speaker following the change of government.

In an interview with newspaper The Star, Azhar said he thought that there would not be any problem with him being made the Dewan Rakyat Speaker, as he felt that he had already proven himself to be independent in his previous role as the Election Commission (EC) chairman.

“And furthermore, I had friends on both sides, so I thought I could be some sort of a bridge between both sides, a window to each other.

“I think it was naive of me to think I could play that role because I never realised in politics, it’s either or. It’s a zero-sum game, you are either with me or you are not, and if you are not, you are my enemy,” he said in an excerpt of the interview with The Star that was released in the form of a video clip yesterday.

On July 13, which was when he was appointed as Dewan Rakyat Speaker to replace Tan Sri Mohd Ariff Md Yusof who was removed from the post the same day, MPs from the ruling coalition and the federal Opposition had engaged in a shouting match in Parliament over Azhar’s appointment.

Azhar reportedly said that things, however, went smoothly from the second day of his appointment and that the situation became better, noting that it was a steep learning curve for him.

Azhar added that he had also met party whips from both sides of the political divide in the Dewan Rakyat and said he was glad that all of them had renewed the commitment for MPs not to make sexist or racist remarks or use unparliamentary language.

In the same interview, Azhar said he has “not been a member of any political party”, further stressing his political independence.

In response to a question on him being perceived as a supporter of the Perikatan Nasional federal government because he was proposed for the Dewan Rakyat Speaker role by the prime minister, Azhar said that such perceptions were not new.

“I think it’s only natural because when I was appointed as EC chairman, the same allegation, the same perception arose. I was regarded as a supporter or sympathiser of Pakatan Harapan (PH).

“And I think I have proven I wasn’t partial to Pakatan Harapan because I remember Tun himself criticised me in public over the usage of government assets, so I wasn’t partial. And as a Speaker, I intend to be the same thing. I have not changed but I think the side which a party sees me has changed,” he added, referring to Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who was prime minister under the Pakatan Harapan administration.

Azhar was a lawyer for 31 years before he was appointed in September 2018 to be the EC chairman during the PH administration led by Dr Mahathir as the prime minister.

In late February and early March, the PH federal government collapsed and was replaced by the Perikatan Nasional administration led by Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin as prime minister.

Azhar later resigned from his EC post just days before he was appointed on July 13 to be Dewan Rakyat Speaker.

In the interview, Azhar made it clear that he would be ready to step down immediately as Dewan Rakyat Speaker if any subsequent government decides to have him discontinue his service, and that he would be prepared to be a lawyer again.

“There’s one thing I need to say, if there’s a new government and they don’t want me, all they need to do is just WhatsApp me and say ‘Azhar, we are the new government, we don’t want you’. I give you an assurance I will resign there and then.

“I’m not going to wait for a motion to be moved and for a war to erupt in the Dewan just to replace me. No, I’m not going to be like that. If I’m not wanted, I’m not wanted. I’ll go, that’s it, I’ll go away,” he said in the same interview with The Star, alluding to the ruckus in the Dewan Rakyat on July 13 when Muhyiddin tabled the motion to have Mohamad Ariff removed as Speaker.

Previously, Azhar justified his swearing in as Dewan Rakyat Speaker without a voting session as he said there was no need for voting since he was the sole nominated candidate, and had also explained that he had taken up the role as a way to serve the nation.

Azhar had previously also denied siding with PN MPs during Dewan Rakyat proceedings or purportedly speaking on behalf of a minister by clarifying that he merely wanted to keep time on the duration of speeches in Parliament.

On July 23, Dr Mahathir and four other MPs had filed a lawsuit to challenge the appointment of Azhar and Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said as the Speaker and Deputy Speaker respectively. The High Court is set to decide on November 10 whether to dismiss the lawsuit or allow it to proceed.